14 Jan Long Live The Great American Band
My all-time favorite music genre is rock, so naturally most of my top favorite musical acts are bands. I also live and work in Atlanta, where bands seem to be the predominant art form, at least in the live venues I frequent. That’s not a knock on my beloved solo artists and singer-songwriters – I love you guys and gals, too – I’m just a rock ‘n roll girl at heart with a hardcore appreciation for team work.
As an entertainment attorney, and even more so as a band manager, I have a unique perspective into how bands operate as a closely held small business, and how the relationship of its members determines everything about the band. It’s not as easy as it looks. A band is very much like a marriage and a business intertwined. You have to carefully balance your intimate, artistic relationship with your band mates with the seemingly incompatible mission of building a viable economic relationship together. Even among the best of us, either one of those tasks would be challenging enough, so to succeed at both takes a whole lot of commitment and a little bit of smart planning.
Here are some common scenarios that young bands face, for which hiring a lawyer who specializes in bands can go a long way. Not only could it help prevent a ton of stress and possibly litigation, but it may actually help save the “Great American Band” I love so much:
#1: Ownership of the Recordings
So you and your friends got together and recorded an album in another buddy’s home studio. Nobody got paid – it was just a fun project (at the time, at least). You uploaded the tracks to the band’s Soundcloud and Reverb pages. Now the music is gaining traction and you want to start selling it. But you have to ask yourself, who gets to keep the money from those sales, and in what proportion? Who do the master recordings even belong to? Does the buddy with the studio have any rights to the music? Don’t wait until everyone starts fighting over money – get your agreements in writing beforehand. A good lawyer can help you do precisely that.
#2: Songwriting and Publishing
Maybe your band has one primary songwriter, or maybe it has several co-writers, or maybe you just want to record a whole album of classic country covers. Whatever your situation is, part of the process of recording and commercializing music involves obtaining the proper publishing permissions for the underlying songs (aka “the compositions”). Every songwriter should research and learn more about the copyrights and publishing rights to the songs they write and record. Publishing is arguably the most complicated area of the music industry, but the good news is, you don’t have to go it alone. A lawyer experienced in music publishing and copyrights can help you navigate that terrain.
#3 Band Name and Logo
Every band has a story behind their name, but not every band remembers it – or rather, not every band mate remembers it the same way. To whom exactly does the band name belong? What if the person who came up with it leaves the band? Do you have a logo, and if so, who created it? Who gets to earn money from the sale of band merchandise containing the band name and logo, and what proportion? What happens to the name if the band breaks up? A lawyer who specializes in music industry practices and intellectual property law can help you work these issues out.
#4: Hiring and Firing Members
If you haven’t had to fire a band mate yet, or had one quit on you last minute, or had one pass away unexpectedly, consider yourself lucky – it’s probably just a matter of time. It’s an awful process to lose a band mate, but you can minimize the damage to the band as a whole by having a clear process in place for situations like that before the event occurs. You can also devise a plan for incorporating new members into the band that’s fair to the existing ones. For the sake of your band and fellow band mates, it is highly recommended you get these important processes in writing. A lawyer specially trained in band dynamics and operating agreements can help you do just that.
Beth B. Moore, Esq. is an entertainment lawyer at The Beth B. Moore Law Firm based in Atlanta, Georgia. Beth specializes in copyrights, trademarks, contracts, and general business consultation for clients who work in music, film, television, theater, gaming, literature, web development and other creative arts industries. You can reach Attorney Moore at firstname.lastname@example.org.